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October 19, 2016

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Crystal River Cruises

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Crystal River Cruises

Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved upscale line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, with the CRYSTAL SERENITY and SYMPHONY large enough to offer a wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering computer workshops before such things made waves). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now Crystal has taken what it does best and downsized it, so to speak, for its new fleet of upscale river boats. In a series of announcements soon after Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong in mid 2015, Crystal outlined an ambitious expansion program that they later modified, though there’s still a lot happening.

Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015.

As for river boats, the first two of four new Rhine-class river boats debuted in 2017: the 106-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and sister CRYSTAL MAHLER. The pair will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. CRYSTAL DEBUSSY and CRYSTAL RAVEL debuted in spring 2018.

N.B. The CRYSTAL MOZART, a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises, renovated in 2016 for Crystal and once the widest boat in service in Europe (not including Russia), has been withdrawn from service.

The company also operates a new Boeing 777 called Crystal Skye for luxury air trips.  To join the ESPRIT, Crystal has plans for three new expedition ships to start sailing in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.  Down the road, Crystal wants to build three new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

CRYSTAL BACH (built 2017 & 106 p); CRYSTAL MAHLER (built 2017 & 106 p); CRYSTAL DEBUSSY (built 2018 & 106 p); CRYSTAL RAVEL (built 2018 & 106 p).

Crystal Bach rendering. * Crystal Cruises

Crystal Bach rendering. * Crystal Cruises

Passenger Profile

Well-to-do couples 50s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.

Passenger Decks

4 (elevators between decks 1-3)

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, one or two excursions in every port and an exclusive shoreside event on select voyages, WiFi, self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.

Crystal River Cruises

Belgrade, capital of Serbia, has a dramatic view over the Danube. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries: A sampling,as itineraries are adjusted every year beginning as early as late March and winding down in late November.

CRYSTAL BACH is sailing the Rhine and Moselle rivers, traveling between Amsterdam, Koblenz then up Moselle to Bernkastel and Trier, and Amsterdam and Basel. CRYSTAL MAHLER is doing seven-, 11- and 16-day voyages along the Rhine and Danube rivers calling in Austria, Germany, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Hungary.  CRYSTAL DEBUSSY offers seven- and 10-day cruises between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, along the Rhine and Moselle rivers, visiting ports in Germany. CRYSTAL RAVEL offers mostly seven-night cruises between Vienna and Budapest, and other combinations including sailing between Nuremberg and Basel, and Nuremberg and Vienna. CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL DEBUSSY cruise during the spring bulb season (late March through April) from Amsterdam and include medieval Ghent, artistic masterpieces of Antwerp with a sidetrip to the thoroughly modern city of Rotterdam.

When to Go?

Cruises are offered between late March and into December, with the best months being May, September and October, when the weather is warm and the summer-time crowds are nowhere in sight. If you’re into the Christmas market scene, then November and December are the months to enjoy the famous markets in Munich and Vienna.

crystal river cruiuses

A suite aboard the Crystal Bach. * Photo: Crystal River Cruises

Cabins

BACH, MAHLER, DEBUSSY and RAVEL are all-suite with posh 250-square-foot abodes boasting French balconies and butler service. Walk-in closets and dual vanities in the bathrooms feature in many of the suites. They have king-sized beds and dual vanity in the bathrooms in most categories. ETRO robes and slippers, personal iPads, Nespresso machines, flat-screen HD TVs with streaming movies and free Wi-Fi are other amenities.

Crystal Bach's Waterside Restaurant (rendering)

Crystal Bach’s Waterside Restaurant (rendering). * Photo: Crystal River Cruises

Dining

All the river vessels have four open-seating dining venues featuring farm-to-table cuisine, with the Waterside being the main restaurant, serving buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and served dinners (with one or two “black-tie optional” nights per cruise that mandate a tux, suit or in the least, a dark jacket for men, with or without a tie); in the center is the cozy Vintage Room & Wine Cellar for private meals paired with fine wines for small groups of friends (at an extra cost). The casual Bistro offers fresh baked goods, fruit, light snacks and coffee/tea, and doubles as a lounge with a cozy faux fireplace. It’s tapas-style at dinnertime. Up top, an informal indoor/outdoor bar and grill is always the most popular place for lunch.  For nibbles, The Pantry snack bar is on Deck 2 next to the reception area. 24-hour insuite dining is offered for those knackered after a day ashore or just want a quiet dinner for two.

Activities & Entertainment

Public areas on all of the river boats reside on the top two decks, 3 & 4, plus the forward part of Deck 2. The top deck is the place to watch the scenery along the riverbanks float by, with plenty of outdoor seating, both shaded and not, plus the Vista Bar for cocktails an a sports area for yoga, pilates and stretching classes. One deck below is Crystal’s signature Palm Court lounge, the ship’s hub and a spacious room wrapped in windows and with a stage (for visiting historians, dancing and local cabaret-style entertainment), piano, TV and bar. Adjacent is the Connoisseur Club, an intimate room for cigar smoking and after dinner drinks, and also the Cove & Piano Bar, another venue for drinks and light entertainment. Deck 3 also has the ship’s wraparound outdoor promenade deck for strolling and lingering; it’s a rare rare feature for a riverboat in Europe. Down on Deck 1 is a fitness center with cardio machines and free weights, daily yoga, one-on-one personal training, impressive for a ship of this size; above on Deck 2 at the bow you’ll find a beauty salon, massage rooms and a steam room/sauna, plus a small pool.

Along the Same Lines

Uniworld and Scenic are close-ish.

Contact

Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalcruises.com.

Crystal Cruises AUS, Suite 2, Level 16, 6 O’Connell Street, Sydney, NSW 2000; +61-2-8074-6500

— HMS/TWS

 

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Austria, Cruise Regions, Europe, French Rivers/Canals, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, Uncategorized


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